- The Washington Times - Friday, September 7, 2001

Movie director Daniel M. Cohen did not know while growing up exactly what his father did for a living.All his parents told him was that his father was an "executive salesman."
Later, as a teen-ager, he learned that Manley Cohen peddled expensive diamond lines from one Pennsylvania hamlet to another.
Mr. Cohen shares his late father's passion — a trade embraced by three Cohen generations, including himself — with audiences through his new film, "Diamond Men." The agreeable independent feature enjoys its world premiere today in the District at the Cineplex Odeon Janus 3 and the Regal Ballston Common 12 in Virginia.
The film, Mr. Cohen's first as director, tells the story of an aging diamond salesman breaking in a youngster more interested in promiscuous women than diamond deals.
Mr. Cohen sees it as a simple tale to which anyone can relate.
"It was a story I could do … that was funny and that would resonate," Mr. Cohen says from his home in Los Angeles. "I thought I could do this film inexpensively, but if it worked, I'd reach people."
The budding filmmaker, who splits his time between his L.A. home and one in his native Lancaster, Pa., says salesmen who travel with lines of precious stones are known as "diamond men."
To try to ensure the safety of their loved ones — and also their goods — diamond men keep their closest friends and families in the dark about what they do.
"I know every character in that movie. I know these people," Mr. Cohen says.
His grandfather began as a sweeper in a Brooklyn, N.Y., watch factory before moving on to peddle diamonds to New York and Pennsylvania gem outlets. Mr. Cohen's father, upon whom the main character is loosely based, joined the business after serving in the military during World War II. Mr. Cohen spent 15 years off and on as a diamond man.
In the movie, venerable screen presence Robert Forster and Donnie Wahlberg, now starring in HBO's "Band of Brothers" miniseries, team up as the mismatched duo. Their pairing evolves from a forced union into a credible friendship as their lives intertwine on the roadways they traverse.
"He's a guy who uses all of his resources to do ordinary things," Mr. Cohen says of the Everyman protagonist, given credibility by Mr. Forster, who earned an Oscar nomination for 1997's "Jackie Brown."
Much of the film derives from experiences either Mr. Cohen or his father had on the road. "My father was robbed once. I was robbed. That sort of thing happened," he says.
His father's mantra was, "You gotta live by your wits."
The threat of thievery looms over the protagonists throughout the film.
"If a professional robs you, they know how to rob you clean," Mr. Cohen says. Amateur thieves mean more mistakes and more chances for something to go horribly wrong. That's why secrecy is so important.
"When I did the business, I was totally anonymous," Mr. Cohen says.
Hollywood is awash with edgy young filmmakers weaned on slick MTV video work and commercial reels. Mr. Cohen, 44, taught himself about filmmaking.
"I didn't have the nerve to dream about making movies until I was about 36," the director says.
A film's director typically declares his actors ideally suited for the roles in question — but to watch Mr. Forster inhabit Eddie is to nod in agreement at Mr. Cohen's assessment of the match.
The director first took notice of Mr. Forster, as did many, in his star-making turn in 1969's "Medium Cool." Years later, Mr. Cohen realized the role of Eddie would be enlivened by Mr. Forster's steely presence.
"He is the embodiment of that character," he says.
"That face," he says. "We wanted every aspect of his face."
The film's camera crew used special lenses to capture every fold in the actor's countenance
Mr. Cohen says bigger-name actors sought the role eventually won by Mr. Wahlberg, the former New Kids on the Block heartthrob. "He seemed to have the range," Mr. Cohen says. "He was funny and masculine."
It doesn't hurt that the young actor shares brother Mark's penchant for conveying innocence along with braggadocio.
Mr. Cohen says the two actors in "Diamond Men" taught him a good deal about the moviemaking process during the shoot.
"I underdirect the actors," he says. "I like to see what they bring to the table."
"Some of [Mr. Forster's] readings were inflected in ways I couldn't put on the page," says Mr. Cohen, who has begun writing his follow-up film, a love story set on a Greek island.
His first film stands as an unofficial tribute to his father and to anyone who endured a lifetime in an occupation many might see as mundane.
"It's a different sort of person you don't see that much ," he says of Mr. Forster's character. The screen's diamond man, like his father, manages to be a good father while excelling in his work.
"I know so few people who have raised families and are successful in their lives," he says.
"Ordinary people," he says, "aren't necessarily ordinary."


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